Saturday, July 31, 2010

Music of 1990: July

United States

The middle of summer 1990 wasn't a big producer of hits, at least if you go by what peaked in the top 10 of the Hot 100. But the month actually delivered some pretty memorable singles. The month's biggest single was "She Ain't Worth It," the biggest hit from Hawaiian pop singer Glenn Medeiros. The song features a rap from Bobby Brown, who dominated the pop chart in 1989, but appeared only on this single in 1990. The single spent 2 weeks at #1, following "Step By Step," which was #1 for the first 2 weeks of the month. Medeiros would have one more minor top 40 hit later that year, "All I'm Missing Is You."

Perhaps more notable that "She Ain't Worth It," July was the month the second-biggest new act of the year saw their first single hit #2. I'm talking about En Vogue, the R&B foursome (later a trio) that became one of the decade's biggest pop groups. Their first single, "Hold On," not to be confused with Wilson Phillips' #1 hit of the same name, was a sultry, sassy that opened with an a capella breakdown proving these girls could really sing. "Hold On" was the group's only major pop hit from their first album, Born to Sing, although that single, along with "Lies" and "You Don't Have to Worry," were #1 hits on the R&B chart. Their second album, 1992's Funky Divas, was a bigger crossover success, scoring the group's biggest hit, #2 single "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and two other top 10s: "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" and "Free Your Mind." Later, in the mid '90s, they also hit the top 3 with "Whatta Man (w/Salt N Pepa)" and "Don't Let Go (Love)."

One of my favorite singles of the year was Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," which was my introduction to the band, leading me to get their album Violator for Christmas later that year. This is such an awesome single--still easily their best, although "Never Let Me Down Again" is a close second. The single hit #8, their only top 10 single in the US. The Anton Corbijn-directed video was really great too: black and white footage of the band coupled with grainy color footage of a monarch roaming a rural landscape. I can't embed the video, but you can see it here.
Taylor Dayne had her final top 10 hit in July, "I'll Be Your Shelter," which hit #4. As written by Diane Warren, who also wrote Dayne's #1 hit "Love Will Lead You Back" from earlier in the year, "I'll Be Your Shelter" was apparently intended for Tina Turner, but Dayne recorded it instead. I remember it being described as Dayne's best Tina Turner impression. Back in the day, I wasn't really into this song, but now I actually rather enjoy it.

Finally, as a testament to just how big she was back then, Madonna hit the top 10 not with a dance pop song, not with a big pop/rock opus, not with a strings-drenched ballad, but with a silly, tongue-in-cheeky '30s-styled ode to being spanked, "Hanky Panky." Imagine someone trying to pull that today. "Hanky Panky" was the second single from Madonna's I'm Breathless album and the follow-up to #1 hit "Vogue." The single hit #2 in Britain in August. Unlike "Vogue," "Hanky Panky" sounded like something that was reasonably inspired by Madonna's participation in the hit movie Dick Tracy.

United Kingdom

Speaking of hit movies, the big-screen version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was responsible for Britain's biggest hit in July. "Turtle Power," the theme song from the film, spent 4 weeks at #1, making it much bigger hit in the UK than it was in the US, where it peaked at #13. The rap duo responsible for this, Partners in Kryme, never had another hit.

The Stone Roses released only two albums, yet tend to feature prominently in any discussion about British rock music of the last 25 years. In particular their first album, The Stone Roses, is often regarded as one of the finest British albums of all time (seriously, it's up there with releases by The Beatles, Radiohead, and Oasis). During their heyday from 1989 to 1995 they released quite a few singles. Although they never had a #1 hit, "One Love" was their second biggest single, peaking at #4.

Following in the footsteps of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, another alum of the Australian soap opera Neighbours crossed over to the pop charts in 1990. Craig McLachlan, credited rather cornily as "Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2," hit #2 with "Mona," his first British single. He'd have a handful of other top 40 singles, including a duet with Debbie Gibson (who knew?!). I think this is a remake, although I'm not sure of what.

Perhaps the most unusual single of the month, Fab Feat. MC Parker's "Thunderbirds Are Go" was a top 5 hit. It's video features footage of the puppet-based television show from the '60s. If anyone has any context why this single was put out in 1990 I'd be interested to hear about it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, August 7, 2010

1. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Eminem and Rihanna stay at #1 for a second week. They are #1 at iTunes and set to be #1 a pop radio next week. They lead a top 10 with no new entries this week, but some shuffling.

3. Dynamite - Taio Cruz

Taio Cruz moves up a spot to #3, setting itself up to challenge Eminem and Rihanna for #1, but I think it will be a few weeks before the song can mount a viable challenge. Both are hot right now, but Eminem's definitely hotter.

6. I Like It - Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull

Up two notches to #6 for the Spanish singer. I can't help but notice how unusual it is to have so many solo male acts in the top 10. Generally it seems there are more female solo popular music stars than male solo acts. Guys seem to prefer being in groups--most rock band members are male. Yet this week's top 10 features Eminem, Taio Cruz, B.o.B., Travie McCoy, Mike Posner, Enrique Iglesias, Usher, Drake and Jason DeRulo. Only Katy Perry breaks into the top 10 frat party.

20. Teenage Dream - Katy Perry

Speaking of Ms. Perry, her follow-up to "California Gurls" debuts at #20. Credit a mid-week release for the unusual chart position. Had it a full week of sales, this likely would have debuted in the top 10--it's currently #3 at iTunes. Expect another big hit.

25. Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready) - Alicia Keys

Looks like this single topped out at #21 last week, yet over on the R&B chart it's still hot, spending its 12th week at #1. It's the longest run since Maxwell spent 14 weeks at #1 last year with "Pretty Wings (Uncut)." It's the longest Keys has been at #1, ahead of the 10 weeks for "No One," the 8 weeks for "You Don't Know My Name" and the 7 weeks for "Like You'll Never See Me Again."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Arcade Fire "The Suburbs" Cover

Arcade Fire's new album, The Suburbs (out next week), is being released with eight different covers. Which is best? I'm kind of partial to the one in the lower left, which sort of reminds me of my grandmother's neighborhood. I have to say, I grew up in the suburbs (of Portland, Oregon), and my neighborhood didn't look anything like this, since our houses were built in the '70s, but the older neighborhood next to ours kind of looked like this (without the palm trees of course).

The Wanted "All Time Low"

Unless there's a major upset, The Wanted's debut single "All Time Low" will be topping the UK singles chart this weekend. Following in the wake of The Script, The Wanted is kind of a band, kind of a boyband, and "All Time Low" is a pretty decent pop song. Their album is due later this year; rumored collaborators include Cathy Dennis (!!!) and Guy Chambers (!!!). Can you sense my excitement?

Katy Perry "Teenage Dream"

Katy Perry looks to have another major hit on her hands with "Teenage Dream," the title track and second single from her upcoming album due August 24. This is actually another great single from her and I wouldn't be surprised at all if it was another #1 hit for her.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Billboar Hot 100, July 31, 2010

1. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Eminem scores his second #1 hit this year, as "Love the Way You Lie" supplants Katy Perry's "California Gurls" after 6 weeks at the top of the Hot 100. "Love the Way You Lie" is Eminem's fourth #1 hit overall, after 2002's "Lose Yourself," last year's "Crack a Bottle" and May's "Not Afraid," currently at #11 although bulleted, due to a resurgence at radio. That "Love the Way You Lie" is the second #1 hit from Recovery, makes that album the first by the rapper to generate two #1s. This is Rihanna's 7th #1 hit, which ties her with Beyonce's seven #1 hits. They lead the current crop of popular female pop artists in terms of #1s. This is Rihanna's second #1 hit as a featured guest after "Live Your Life," her #1 hit from 2008 with T.I. "Love the Way You Lie" makes both Eminem and Rihanna simultaneously the first artists this year to score a second #1 hit. The song should be #1 at top 40 radio in a couple of weeks; it's currently #5 and gaining over 2,000 spins a week.

4. Dynamite - Taio Cruz

It's looking like B.o.B. and Hayley Williams' "Airplanes" is going to have to be content with peaking at #2. Will the same fate befall Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," the follow-up to his #1 "Break Your Heart?" We shall see. This song is still growing, so I wouldn't count it out, but I think "Love the Way You Lie" could have a long run at #1.

8. I Like It - Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull

Enrique Iglesias is enjoying his first top 10 hit in 9 years with "I Like It," which entered the top 10 last week and holds at #8 this week. This is his fourth top 10, after his #1 hits "Bailamos" and "Be With You" and 2001's #3 hit "Hero."

13. Impossible - Shontelle

Shontelle climbs three spots to #13. Will she make the top 10? Maybe, but it could be iffy. This track is top 10 at pop radio, but showing signs of rapid decline.

19. DJ Got Us Falling in Love - Usher feat. Pitbull

Having apparently exhausted the hit potential of Raymond vs. Raymond with #1 hit "OMG," Usher's follow-up is a new single from the upcoming companion EP Versus. The frenetic, clubby song is an instant smash, debuting at #19 this week. It's certainly another potential #1 hit for the R&B/pop singer. This is Usher's 22nd top 40 hit.

28. Misery - Maroon 5

Maroon 5 scores their 7th top 40 hit with "Misery," the first single from their third album, Hands All Over. The single is up 16 notches this week.

36. The Only Exception - Paramore

Paramore's lead singer Hayley Williams has been enjoying a firm spot in the top 10 the last couple months as the featured vocalist on B.o.B.'s "Airplanes." Finally her band catches up a bit as "The Only Exception" finally breaks into the top 40. This is the band's third top 40 hit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

'80s Polo Girl Sues Vampire Weekend

Users of clip art and file photos take note: "'80s chick in yellow polo" isn't just a random girl, she has a name. In this case it's Kirsten Kennis, and she's pissed off.

Kennis is suing Vampire Weekend and its record label for $2 million in damages for unauthorized use of her image as the cover of Contra, the second Vampire Weekend album released earlier this year.

Apparently her signature was forged on the photo release obtained from the image's photographer, Tod Brody.

The image sparked interest when the album was released, at which time the band said, "When we saw this image, we just found it very striking. And part of it is the look on her face. It's not about the color of her hair, or the fact that she's wearing a Polo shirt. What makes it interesting is her face."

Related Post:

Review of Vampire Weekend's Contra

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mercury Prize Shortlist 2010

Well, I didn't get anything right in my prediction of what would be nominated this year. I can't believe I forgot The XX, one of my favorite albums of last year, which has emerged as the favorite in this year's Mercury Prize contest. Of course that means it won't win--the "frontrunner" never does.

As usual, there are a lot of surprises here and bands I hadn't heard of. It was just yesterday thought that I was listening to I Am Kloot for the first time and thinking they were pretty good, so it was cool to see them here. I'm surprised Dizzee Rascal showed up, since Tongue N Cheek represents a pretty mainstream turn for the British rapper.

In the interest of, um, research, I just snapped up 5 of the nominees (in addition to the 2 I already had). So far, I'm really enjoying them. Here's a brief rundown:

Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions. This is the fifth album and first nomination for Scottish band Biffy Clyro. It's a fairly successful album, having scored four top 40 singles, including top 10 hit "That Golden Rule" and the rather gorgeous, dramatic song "Many of Horror," which I happen to really love with its big strings and guitars. Don't have this album, but I'd be open to getting it or least hearing more of it at some point. Check out: "Many of Horror."

Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea. This is the second album and first nomination for the English singer, who drew on the emotions surrounding her husband's death to record this lush, soulful work. I didn't expect her to be nominated, but I love this album, so it's nice to see the recognition for the singer, best known for her hit "Put Your Records On" (not from this album). Check out: "I'd Do It All Again."

Dizzee Rascal - Tongue N Cheek. Well, this is a first for the Mercury Prize: a nominee that includes three #1 hits. Not the norm for an award that generally champions lesser-known works. Of course Rascal was a bit under the radar until he decided to embrace dance music a couple of years ago, resulting in him being catapulted from indie-darling rapper to mainstream-hitmaking rapper. So famous is he that he recently scored his fourth #1 hit singing a World Cup ra-ra for England. This is Rascal's fourth album and third to score a Mercury nod; his first, Boy in Da Corner, won the award in 2003. Check out: "Holiday."

Kit Downes Trio - Golden. It's cool that the Mercury Prize often finds room for a jazz nominee. This year its British jazz pianist Kit Downes, performing here with his trio of Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums. This is Downes' first album and nomination. Check out: "A Dance Took Place."

Foals - Total Life Forever. This is the second album and first nomination for Oxford, England's Foals. Total Life Forever is a great album. I considered reviewing it last month, and perhaps now I'll go ahead and do so. This is earnest indie rock with lovely, often soaring melodies. Check out: "Spanish Sahara."

I Am Kloot - Sky at Night. Championed and produced by Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow--the band who won this award 2 years ago--I Am Kloot's fifth album was released 2 weeks ago to some pretty stellar reviews. Their melodic, acoustic approach is quite seductive. I just got this and have only heard a few tracks, but so far I'm liking it. Check out: "To the Brink."

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can. This is the singer-songwriter's second album after 2008's Alas, I Cannot Swim, also a Mercury nominee. My first impression was that this isn't my thing, but then I listened to "Goodbye England" and thought it was really pretty. And then I listened to "Devil's Spoke" and found it appealingly dark and muscular, tinged with folksy banjo and fiddle. I didn't buy this today, but may just yet. Check out: "Devil's Spoke."

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More. Lots to celebrate in a certain corner of British folk music, as Marling's boyfriend Marcus Mumford's band also snags a Mercury nod with their debut. This album is hot right now--it's currently #6 on the UK albums chart. They've even had a couple top 40 hits. Check out: "The Cave."

Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation. The veteran of the pack, rocker Paul Weller (originally of The Jam) scores his second Mercury nomination for his tenth studio album. Not really my thing, but I know that has gotten a lot of acclaim. Check out: "Wake Up the Nation."

Villagers - Becoming a Jackal. This Irish five-piece is one of the least known of the nominees. Again, another one I picked up today and haven't listened to much, but sounds good so far. Check out: "Home."

Wild Beasts -Two Dancers. This is the second album from Wild Beasts, who I'd not heard of before today. This is moody indie rock with electronic touches. Another one I picked up and looking forward to exploring. Check out: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues"

The XX - XX. Love that this made the list. Gorgeously understated first album from the London-based duo. Their "Islands" is becoming something of a hit, currently on the BBC Radio 1 "B" list. Check out: "Infinity."

Related Entries

My (lame) prediction article

My review of The XX, XX

My review of Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mercury Prize Musings

The shortlist for this year's Mercury Prize will be announced on Tuesday. As usual, I expect it will be a mix of things we've heard of and love and things we haven't heard of at all.

So what might be the list that we've heard of?

Usually there's some overlap with the BBC Sounds of poll. I doubt Ellie Goulding could get in, but perhaps Marina & The Diamonds, Delphic or Two Door Cinema Club (a personal favorite).

Of albums that were more popular, Plan B could be a good choice. It came out some time ago, but Muse's The Resistance could be in there.

Other than that, I'm out of ideas.

UK Singles Chart, July 24, 2010

1. Airplanes - B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams

B.o.B. climbs to #1 with "Airplanes" his second single and second straight #1 hit. After Dizzee Rascal, he's the second artist to score a second #1 hit this year, following "Nothin' But You," which hit #1 just 2 months ago. For Hayley Williams, lead singer of the group Paramore, this is her biggest hit; although her band has had three top 40 hits, none has charted higher than #14. It's a pretty decent #1 I think. Can I get a second?

2. We No Speak Americano - Yolanda Be Cool vs. Dcup

"We No Speak Americano" climbs 3 spots to #2 this week. Surely this is the surprise hit of the summer. Who'd have thought? This is a fun song, although it goes on about 2 minutes longer than I think it should (at least the version I have seems to).

3. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Eminem and Rihanna climb another notch to #3. I'm sure this will be a #1 hit in the US soon. But can it also do so in the UK? It's been 4 years since Eminem last hit #1, appearing on Akon's "Smack That."

5. Just Be Good to Green - Professor Green feat. Lily Allen

Professor Green scores his second top 5 hit, this time with popstar Lily Allen in tow. Once again sampling a previously famous hit--this time 1990 #1 hit "Dub Be Good to Me" by Beats International, which itself samples SOS Band's "Just Be Good to Me." This is Lily Allen's sixth top 10 hit and second as a guest performer after her appearance on a 2007 hit by the artist at #6.

6. Bang Bang Bang - Mark Ronson & Business International

Who would that be? Mark Ronson of course, who returns after a 3-year absence (as an artist at least) with "Bang Bang Bang," the first single from his upcoming third album, Record Collection. Ronson appears with his band, Business International. It's a pretty explosive track with an '80s electro bent. Definitely not the '60s-sounding stuff he's known for.

7. The Club Is Alive - JLS

"Beat Again" debuted at #1 and spent its second week at #1. "Everybody in Love" debuted at #1 and spent its second week at #3. "The Club Is Alive" spends its second week at a significantly lower position, dropping 6 notches to #7. No surprise, as this track has received decidedly bad buzz.

8. Pack Up - Eliza Doolittle

Ms. Doolittle climbs four spots to score her first top 10 hit with "Pack Up."

38. Fourth of July (Fireworks) - Kelis

I didn't occur to me last week, but isn't it odd that Kelis has a top 40 hit in Britain that celebrates America's independence (from Britain no less)? Of course it's just a metaphor (hmmm...I wonder what for), but still. Maybe Leona Lewis can come out with a love song called "Boxing Day (Presents)" and make it a hit in the US. Or maybe not.

Album Review: The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (4.5/5)

Nothing I've heard from Gaslight Anthem sounds like hardcore punk, but on American Slang the indie band channels classic Americana-style rock. They may be from New Jersey, but like Bruce Springsteen (also from New Jersey and whom they are often compared to), their sound evokes more the rural heartland. Last year they even played onstage with the Boss, surely a dream come true for them.

American Slang's mid-tempo and upbeat rock songs are really great--10 tracks, all quite efficiently over in just over 30 minutes. The opening title track beats its drums simply to a heavy guitar rhythm, scored at times with chimes. Lyrically, it lays out the themes of old school rock as if cataloging them, including abandonment ("I called out for my father, but my father had died") and the plight of the working class ("the fortunes came for the richer men, while we're left with gallows"). Gaslight Anthem doesn't need to dig deeper, since they are referencing their influences that have covered this ground before. "Stay Lucky" is faster and brighter sounding, although lyrically more depressing, as singer Brian Fallon recounts how those who are young and lucky are later neither.

New York references abound on this album. Manhattan gets a shout out at the end of "Stay Lucky." "Bring it On" puts its heart on its sleeve to court "the queen of the Bronx," in epic rock style. Lower Manhattan's Church Street is the setting for nightlife-loving"The Diamond Church Street Choir." "The Queen of Lower Chelsea," another highlight, has a particularly appealing guitar and bass melody. It's a bit moodier and less in-your-face than some of the other songs, making it stand out.

"Orphans" kicks the tempo back up with the kind of juiced-up guitar and drum rhythms that make your head and feet move as if subconsciously. "Boxer" delights with its bright melody and lyrical metaphors ("you found the bandages inside the pen, and the stitches on the radio"). Upbeat "The Spirit of Jazz" (which isn't jazz at all) is American Slang at it most punk. "We Did It When We Were Young" is the album at its calmest, closing the album with dramatic finality.

American Slang draws on '70s and '80s punk and rock sounds that have continued to influence bands today. As such, it has a rather timeless sound, like it could have been recorded at any point in the last 35 years.

Best: The Queen of Lower Chelsea, Boxer, American Slang, Stay Lucky, Orphans, Bring It On

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

1990 Album Review: Mariah Carey - Mariah Carey (4/5)

Mariah Carey launched her career on a high note. Quite literally actually, for it was the soaring pitch of the final notes of her first single "Vision of Love" that set her apart from the pack of female pop singers she so successfully broken into. As the '80s concluded, Madonna, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson were the reigning queens of pop music--a circle that would widen to admit this lady in due time.

This debut isn't perfect, and in fact many of the tracks after the opening salvo feel like filler. After the buoyant fourth track, "Someday," there isn't another real standout until the closing #1 hit "Love Takes Time." But those first few songs--#1 hits like the dramatic "Vision of Love," tear-jerking "I Don't Wanna Cry" and why-wasn't-it-a-hit "There's Got to Be a Way"--are worth the price of admission.

The rest of Mariah Carey, while not bad, is actually kind of interesting. "All in Your Mind" and "You Need Me" are very of the late '80s/early '90s era, reminiscent of the sound Carey would later explore as "retro" on the Glitter album. "Sent from Up Above" compares sex to a religious experience, a trick Madonna did earlier and better with "Like a Prayer."

It's interesting to compare Carey then to Carey now. As a 20 year-old, she chased an older sound that found the sweet intersection between pop, R&B and adult contemporary. These days, at 40, she does the opposite, trying to compete with other pop/R&B singers half her age. I guess the grass is always greener.

Despite being a bit uneven, this album was a major launch for Carey, with all four of its singles hitting #1 on the Hot 100. The album was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award and, although it lost, Carey was awarded best female pop singer and best new artist. It was also the best-selling album of 1991 in the US.

Best: Vision of Love, Someday, I Don't Wanna Cry, Love Takes Time, There's Got to Be a Way

Sunday, July 11, 2010

UK Singles Chart, July 17, 2010

1. The Club Is Alive - JLS

JLS (aka Jack the Lad Swing) scores their third #1 hit with "The Club Is Alive," the first single from the group's second album. Opinion on this single seems to be mixed. Interpolating "The Sound of Music" from the classic musical of stage and screen is more than a little cheesy, having replace "hills" with "club." Goofy lyrics aside, the electro-pop melody is pretty catchy. Still, I expect this will burn out quickly unlike their previous #1 hits, "Beat Again" and "Everybody in Love," which hung around the chart for some time each.

4. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

"Love the Way You Lie" follows Eminem's last single, "Not Afraid" into the top 5 as it climbs two spots this week. Eminem seems to like having #4 singles--if this goes no higher, it would be his 7th.

5. We No Speak Americano - Yolanda Be Cool vs. DCUP

Here's an unusual chart hit--An Australian band takes a sample of the 1956 Italian song "Tu vuò fà l'americano" and turns it into an international dance club smash. It's already been #1 all over Europe and top 5 in their native Australia.

7. My First Kiss - 3Oh!3 feat. Ke$ha

Got enough needless punctuation for you? 3Oh!3, who appeared on Ke$ha's recent #11 hit "Blah Blah Blah," now host her on their new single "My First Kiss," which follows "Starstrukk" to be their second top 10 hit. Although Ke$ha's had only one top 10 hit on her own ("Tik Tok") this is the third time she's been there as a featured artist on another act's hit single.

12. Pack Up - Eliza Doolittle

British singer Eliza Doolittle scores her second top 40 hit, 10 notches higher than the #22 peak of her first, "Skinny Genes." She sounds an awful lot like Lily Allen, doesn't she?

24. Prayin' - Plan B

Plan B climbs 12 notches with "Prayin'," the third single from his album The Defamation of Strickland Banks and follow-up to #3 hit "She Said." It gets a physical release July 26.

33. I Am Who I Am / Secret Love - Lee Ryan

Is anyone still interested in Lee Ryan, the former member of boyband Blue? Apparently not, as his latest double A-side single limps onto the chart at #33. It's the first single from his second album, Confessions. Similarly, I doubt anyone will be really interested to hear what Mr. Ryan has to confess.

Album Review: Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite (4.5/5)

"I'm fierce and I'm feeling mighty. I'm a golden girl. I'm an Aphrodite, alright!" declares Kylie Minogue on "Aphrodite," the title track of her 11th studio album. Accompanied by a drumline and kickin' keyboard melody, the song is one of many highlights the Australian singer delivers on this outing.

The style of Aphrodite will come as no surprise--it's slick dance pop through and through with no ballads to disrupt the rhythm. What may be surprising is how cohesive and consistently good this album is, particularly following X, which delivered some great songs but felt disjointed.

The album's first third consists of four particularly uptempo numbers. Glittery first single "All the Lovers" starts the set off right with its bright melodies of synthesizers and piano chords over a chugging bassline. "Get Outta My Way" comes on a bit stronger, reminiscent of Fever's "Love at First Sight." Rumor has it this will be the second single, and it's great choice. "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)" delivers a similarly clubby vibe. "Closer" is a bit darker with a melody of synth harpsichord. All of these songs are co-produced by Stuart Price, the musical magician who also helmed Scissor Sisters' latest album. He produces or co-produces 10 of Aphrodite's 12 songs.

Mid-tempo "Everything Is Beautiful" is the closest the album gets to a slow song. It's quite apparently written by Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley, as it's easy to imagine Tom Chaplin singing this instead with a different arrangement. It's a lovely song in Kylie's hands with a synth-pop sound that complements the surrounding dance pop. "Illusion" blends some acoustic guitar and strings into the Price-produced dance pop sound. Singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot and her husband Andy Chatterley wrote and co-produced (with Price) "Better than Today," another guitar-and-synths-based song.

Kylie turns the production reins over to Calvin Harris for "Too Much," and his edgier style contrasts with the smoother dance pop production Price favors. Darker "Cupid Boy" finds Kylie in a particularly expressive mood, awash in layers of scratchy synths, swirling synths, guitar and beats. In contrast, "Looking for a Angel" is bright and smooth, gliding along as if effortlessly in the way that a lot of the songs on Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor did. "Can't Beat the Feeling" finishes with a "hands in the air" party feel.

This is Kylie's best album since Fever, and closest in style and form to that album. Considering how much I love that album, she couldn't have done better by me. Aphrodite may be the Greek goddess of love and beauty, but in Kylie's hands she's now also the patron saint of dance pop.

Best: All the Lovers, Get Outta My Way, Aphrodite, Everything Is Beautiful, Illusion, Cupid Boy

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Kylie Minogue Discography

Before I review Kylie Minogue's new album, Aphrodite, I first want to look back at the 10 discs that preceded it. I have all of Kylie's albums, but I didn't get into her until 2002, so I wasn't clued in during the time most of her earlier albums were hits. So, while I don't feel nostalgic for anything prior to Fever, I can certainly appreciate them.

Kylie's musical career falls neatly into three distinct phases: her initial work for Mushroom/PWL, which was produced by the Stock Aitken Waterman team, her more "serious" work with Deconstruction and then finally her current (and best) modern dance pop for Parlophone.

Here's a rundown....

Stock Aitken Waterman Years (1988-1992)

Kylie (1988). This is where it all started. Buoyed by the success of "Locomotion" in Australia, the former soap star traveled to Britain, hooked up with super pop production team Stock Aitken Waterman and produced this late '80s pop classic. "I Should Be So Lucky," the first track and biggest hit, is a clear standout, but there are other bubbly late '80s synth pop gems here, such as the updated version of "The Loco-Motion," for years Kylie's only US hit; "Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi," which sounds like a newscast at first; and "It's No Secret," a single in the US but nowhere else. "Look My Way" is an interesting album cut since it sounds like The Whispers' "Rock Steady." Best: I Should Be So Lucky, The Loco-Motion, It's No Secret, Got to Be Certain, Turn It Into Love (4/5).

Enjoy Yourself (1989). At first blush this differs little from Kylie, yet unlike her first album there aren't as many good songs. "Hand on My Heart" was another #1 hit, but not as joyously good as "I Should Be So Lucky." I actually think I prefer "I Wouldn't Change a Thing" and "Never Too Late," which was a #1 hit in Ireland. Despite these great singles, the albums suffers from too many ballads, most of which aren't very good, save for the '60s-leaning "Tears on My Pillow" (another UK #1). Best: Never Too Late, I Wouldn't Change a Thing, Hand on My Heart (3/5).

Rhythm of Love (1990). New decade, slightly new sound for Kylie. This is still S/A/W, but updated for the '90s with a little more mature sound. Among these early albums, this was the best, delivering glossy, high-class dance pop. "Better the Devil You Know" in particular is a standout of Kylie's early work. "Step Back in Time" lives up to its name with some funky retro touches. No ballads this time; a wise choice. Best: Better the Devil You Know, Step Back in Time, What Do I Have to Do, Secrets, Things Can Only Get Better (4/5)

Let's Get to It (1991). By this point, Kylie was ready for a change. It's clear enough from the album's cover shot that she meant this to be something different. But what? Unfortunately, Let's Get to It doesn't answer that question. Halfway through the promotion of Rhythm of Love, Kylie retooled her image to be sexier (some said trashier), a look the press dubbed "SexKylie," with her big hair and fishnets. Despite apparent intentions to the contrary, Let's Get to It isn't very sexy; only "Finer Feelings" comes close to conveying much sensuality. The rest is a jumble of Kylie as usual--dance pop like "The Word Is Out," retro-flavored pop like "Give Me Just a Little More Time"--and then some big missteps, like the "Whole New World"-esque duet with Keith Washington, "If You Were with Me Now," "Let's Get to It," a rip off of Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" and "I Guess I Like It Like That," which liberally samples from 2 Unlimited's recent hit "Get Ready for This." The least enjoyable album Kylie would ever make. Best: Finer Feelings, The Word Is Out (2.5/5).

Deconstruction Years (1994-1998)

Kylie Minogue (1994). Having finished her PWL contract with a greatest hits set, Kylie moved on to Deconstruction, a more cutting-edge club-oriented label. From the opening notes of the first song--the quite stunning "Confide in Me"--it is clear that Kylie has made a different record. In fact, I'd say this is the record Let's Get to It would have liked to have been. Much of the album is slower songs, but amazingly, they work, conveying an easy sensuality missing from her previous work. "Confide in Me" burns with Middle Eastern influences. "Surrender" and "Put Yourself in My Place" both slink along with a seductive synth-based melodies. "If I Was Your Lover" has a funkier beat. "Where Is The Feeling?" dives into disco (too bad it was completely remade for the single, since the original album version is quite cool). The rest of the album follows a similar template. A re-invention that worked, at least for now. Best: Confide in Me, Where Is the Feeling?, Surrender, If I Was Your Lover, Put Yourself in My Place (4/5).

Impossible Princess (1997). While Kylie Minogue was a a new direction, Impossible Princess was a flat out experiment. Inspired by her then photographer-director boyfriend and recent work with Nick Cave, Kylie sought to make something really different from anything that came before (or after). Impossible Princess is eclectic, surprising and personal--things a dance pop diva aren't typically known for. It largely works, although it's so "un-Kylie" as we know her now, that it's difficult to assess. "Too Far" kicks off with a spoken-word intro, harsh beats and blasts of strings. "Cowboy Style" has a cool Western vibe with fiddle and guitar. "Some Kind of Bliss" has a confident rock swagger. "Did It Again" blends electric guitar, sitars and beats into a hard-hitting pop song. "Drunk" is the album's most insistent dance cut. "I Don't Need Anyone" is high-tempo, guitar-driven and retro all at once. Despite all these interesting elements, the album failed. Its release was botched when, after the death of Princess Diana, the album's release was pushed back and its title removed. First single "Some Kind of Bliss" failed to catch on, and nothing subsequent made many waves. The pop princess tried to make something else of herself; but the public took a pass. Best: Cowboy Style, Some Kind of Bliss, I Don't Need Anyone, Too Far, Did It Again (3.5/5).

Parlophone Years (2000 to present)

Light Years (2000). With Light Years, Kylie started the third and best segment of her musical career. Leaving behind the experimentalism of the Deconstruction years, Kylie embraced a more mainstream dance pop sound. This was not a return to the bubblegum pop of the S/A/W years, but a whole new direction into disco-inspired modern dance pop--a sound wholly fitting of Kylie's less than powerful but quite expressive vocal style. The album is a real gem, featuring a delightful mix of modern dance pop (particularly big hits "Spinning Around" and "On a Night Like This" plus the title track), retro disco (fantastically campy "Love Boat," "Your Disco Needs You," "Under the Influence of Love" and "Disco Down") and some more rockin' songs co-written with Guy Chambers ("I'm So High" and the Robbie Williams collaboration, "Kids"). The album is fun, fresh and slickly produced. Best: On a Night Like This, Spinning Around, Love Boat, Your Disco Needs You, Disco Down, Please Stay, Under the Influence of Love (4.5/5).

Fever (2001). As good as Light Years is, Fever is even better--perhaps the best dance pop album ever made. I recently ranked it my favorite album of the last 10 years. I've said much about it in the past, so there's no point in really rehashing it, only to reiterated that this 12-track album is Kylie's most cohesive work: less kitschy and more contemporary sounding than Light Years with no ballads and no duds. It's best known for Kylie's signature hit, "Can't Get You Out of My Head," a #1 hit in more than 14 countries. Simply perfection. Best: Can't Get You Out of My Head, Love at First Sight, More More More, Come Into My World, Your Love, In Your Eyes, Burning Up (5/5).

Body Language (2003). After the successful disco/pop of her last two albums, Kylie advanced a decade this '80s electro-inspired set. It doesn't work quite as well, and her sister Dannii released a similar and better album earlier the same year, Neon Nights. Still, there are some great songs, like the sexy/silly #1 hit "Slow" (which I absolutely adore), stomping "Secret (Take You Home)," which really should have been a single, sly cool number "Chocolate" and R&Bish hit "Red Blooded Woman." Best: Slow, Secret (Take You Home), Chocolate, Red Blooded Woman (3.5/5)

X (2007). After a 4-year gap in albums filled delightfully with the retrospective Ultimate Kylie and less delightfully with Kylie's bout with cancer, the Australian singer roared back with this winning and eclectic dance pop album. While less cohesive than Light Years or Fever, it was better than Body Language, delivering a big dose of sound with its first single "2 Hearts," electro-pop hit "Wow," and the stunning House number, "The One." Best: 2 Hearts, The One, Wow, In My Arms, Like a Drug, All I See (feat. Mims) (4/5)

Ranked list

1. Fever (2001, 5/5)
2. Light Years (2000, 4.5/5)
3. Rhythm of Love (1990, 4/5)
4. Kylie Minogue (1994, 4/5)
5. X (2007, 4/5)
6. Kylie (1988, 4/5)
7. Impossible Princess (1997, 3.5/5)
8. Body Language (2003, 3.5/5)
9. Enjoy Yourself (1989, 3/5)
10. Let's Get to It (1991, 2.5/5)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Billboard Hot 100, July 17, 2010

1. California Gurls - Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg

Katy Perry spent all of July 2008 at #1, and I wouldn't be surprised if she does that again this year, as "California Gurls" leads the Hot 100 for a fifth week. The song is basically the #1 hit in the English-speaking world at the moment, having topped charts in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand.

2. Love the Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Eminem does an amazing job of holding on to #2 this week. The single debuted their last week, buoyed by first week availability as Eminem's Recovery was released, but the single doesn't suffer a second week slide--it is in fact bulleted and won the Airplay Gainer this week. I think Eminem has a big hit on his hands. Must feel nice to have that again. In particular, I think it's safe to say this will be a top 10 hit at top 40 radio, which Eminem hasn't had in 5 years (since "Mockingbird" hit #7 in 2005). This is Rihanna's third time at #2, the second as a guest after last year's "Run This Town" with Jay-Z.

7. Dynamite - Taio Cruz

Taio Cruz scores his second top 10 hit with "Dynamite," which rises 7 spots to #7 winning this week's Digital Gainer. It follows recent #1 hit, "Break Your Heart." Although Taio Cruz has been a star longer in his native Britain, he's actually had only one more top 10 hit there than in the US.

9. Ridin' Solo - Jason DeRulo

Jason DeRulo climbs a notch to #9 with "Ridin' Solo," his third consecutive top 10 hit.

10. Not Afraid - Eminem

"Not Afraid," Eminem's first single from Recovery, returns to the top 10 this week. Despite the rapid rise of "Love the Way You Lie," this older single, a former #1, continues to endure.

15. Sombody to Love - Justin Bieber

Buoyed by the release of the Usher remix, Justin Bieber's "Somebody to Love" climbs 10 spots to #15. I imagine this will be in the top 10 soon, although it is cooling surprisingly fast at top 40 radio.

18. I Like It - Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull

Enrique Iglesias climbs 4 spots to #18, scoring his first top 20 hit in 8 years. His last was "Escape," which hit #12 in 2002.

22. Power - Kanye West

Priming the masses for his fifth album, Good Ass Job, Kanye West drops its first single, "Power," his 11th top 40 hit as a lead performer (he's also had 9 as a gust performer).

24. Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready) - Alicia Keys

It seems that everywhere Alicia Keys has been successful lately except the Hot 100. In Britain, she's enjoyed a streak of five consecutive top 10 hits and on the R&B chart, this single has been #1 for 9 week, her second-longest stay at the top of that chart behind the 10 weeks for "No One." Yet on the Hot 100, singles from The Element of Freedom have been a nonstarter. This week "Un-Thinkable" climbs 3 spots to #24, making the highest charting of the album's five singles so far.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Music of 1990: June

Yikes. Behind again on these.


June 1990 delivered the year’s two biggest hits. Wilson Phillips, a trio of young women descended from famous singers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, had their first of several hits in the early ‘90s with “Hold On,” a breezy slice of pop that showcased the group’s signature vocal harmonics. It was the #1 song on the Billboard year-end 1990 chart. The video, which showed the girls on vacation by the beach and in the mountains, was a nice accompaniment.

June also gave us the year’s second biggest hit, “It Must Have Been Love,” the most successful single by Swedish duo Roxette. The pair made their mark the previous year with #1 hits “The Look” and “Listen to Your Heart,” but this stopgap single from the Pretty Woman soundtrack was their most memorable tune, spending 2 weeks at #1. The group would have one more #1 hit, “Joyride,” from their second US album, before their popularity began to fade.

MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" wasn’t a Billboard #1 hit, but it really should have been (something about the limited availability of a physical single made it peak at a rather lousy #8), as it was probably the song most people would say was the hit of summer 1990. The video was all over MTV (interestingly the video had an error in it that causes it to speed up for a split second. Odd that despite the hundreds of airings it received, neither MTV nor MC Hammer’s record company could be bothered to get MTV a corrected tape). The was the first of several big hits for the rapper, one of the first major crossover stars of hip-hop.

Continuing her streak of hits (and only halfway through them at this point), Janet Jackson landed a fourth top 10 from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album. On the album, “Alright” wasn’t a standout track, but the song got a wonderful remix for the single, adding a better beat, a jazzy horns section and, in some versions, a rap from Heavy D. Another great video was produced, a dazzling setup of synchronized dancing and various hijinks with a retro feel, featuring Cyd Charisse, Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers, all of whom are now deceased.

With Bobby Brown having ruled the charts in 1989, 1990 was the year the rest of New Edition got their chance. First up was Bell Biv Devoe, a trio of Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe. Their sound was New Jack Swing—a combination of pop, R&B and hip-hop that became really big in the early ‘90s. It’s a style I rather like, as it generally had beats close to dance pop and crossed over well between R&B and top 40 charts. “Poison” was the first of the group’s two major hits. While every member of New Edition had solo hits, none sustained their streaks as long as Bobby Brown. However none of these acts would be as successful as the group Bell Biv Devoe would help launch, Boyz II Men.

New Kids on the Block had their biggest and last #1 hit in June with "Step By Step," the title track and first single from their third studio album. It followed their two #1 hits from the previous year, "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" and "Hangin' Tough." This was the beginning of the end for the five-some, who saw their popularity eroded by the emergence of new jack swing-styled acts (most notably Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd). Phil Collins landed a third top 5 hit from ...But Seriously, "Do You Remember." And R&B trio After 7 had their first top 10 hit, "Ready or Not," which peaked appropriately at #7. The group included two of Babyface's brothers.


Recently voted by the British public as the #1 football anthem, "World in Motion" by New Order, or rather the patriotic title "EnglandNewOrder," got its start in June 1990, spending 2 weeks at #1 in conjunction with the 1990 World Cup. With each successive World Cup the song is revived; this year it hit #22. Although "Blue Monday" and "Regret" are likely considered bigger hits for the band, "World in Motion" was their only #1 hit.

Elton John scored a major hit with the double A-side single "Sacrifice"/"Healing Hands." It spent 5 weeks at #1 and was his second chart-topper, 14 years after his first, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee. The songs were released separately in the US, with "Healing Hands" hitting #13 in 1989 and "Sacrifice" hitting #18 in 1990.

Sample-laden "Hear the Drummer (Get Wicked)" was a #3 hit for Chad Jackson. Dance pop act Snap! followed their #1 hit "The Power" with top 5 single "Ooops Up," which unlike "The Power" was not a major hit in the US. It's similar, but less interesting than their previous hit.

The British singles chart is generally more eclectic than the Billboard Hot 100, which rarely features novelty singles and music that isn't broadly considered "popular music" (i.e pop, rock, R&B, rap). So it's refreshing to see that someone like Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti could have a #2 hit in the UK, which he did in June 1990 with "Nessum Dorma." At it wasn't just a fluke--it spent 3 weeks at #2 and 5 weeks total in the top 10. Of course, its success was due to him performing the aria at The World Cup.

A few singles that were hits in the US were also hits in Britain. New Kids on the Block's "Step By Step" hit #2, Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love" reached #3, Wilson Phillips took "Hold On" to #6 and Michael Bolton hit #10 with "How Can We Be Lovers."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Personal Chart, July 3, 2010

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Back to 1990/TV Time Capsule Crossover

As part of my Best of 1990 series, I wrote a guest article about the television moment of 1990, the season 3 finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Check it out at TV Time Capsule.

July New Album Releases

Welcome to the second half of 2010! July is generally a slow month for album releases, but this year may be the exception, with some notable releases on the way.

Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite (July 5/6) ( Kylie's last album X was, if not a slam dunk, a pretty successful dance pop album. Three years later, Aphrodite promises to be just as good if not better. With Stuart Price on board as executive producer, I'm hopeful the album will have a more unified sound than X, which suffered an identity crisis from its producer-potluck approach. Other collaborators this time include Kish Mauve (X's "2 Hearts"), Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley, who co-writes one song, Calvin Harris, Jake Shears and Nerina Pallot. First single "All the Lovers" is already a hit.

M.I.A. - /\/\ /\ Y /\ (July 13). Confused? Those symbols are meant to be read "Maya," as in the nickname for British recording artist Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A. M.I.A. had a major hit with her last album, Kala, most notably its single "Paper Planes," a top 10 hit in the U.S., which was nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy and featured in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millioniare. The album's first single, "XXXO," is already out. She's going really conceptual on this album, whose theme M.I.A. has described as "information politics."

Sheryl Crow - 100 Miles from Memphis (July 19/20). Sheryl Crow returns with her 7th studio album, the follow-up to the rather enjoyable Detours from 2008. This time she adds a bit of country flavor to her pop/rock singer-songwriter sound, as well as a well-known musical guest, Justin Timberlake.

Enrique Iglesias - Euphoria (July 5/6). With "I Like It" (feat. Pitbull) having become Iglesias's biggest US hit in years, he's in good position for the release of Euphoria, his ninth album and first to contain a pretty even mix of songs in Spanish and English.

Mystery Jets - Serotonin(July 5). The British Indie band releases its third album. I haven't listened to them much, but I liked their 2008 single "Two Doors Down."

Feeder - Renegades (July 5). British rock band releases its 7th album, the first of two planned for this year.

The Coral - Butterfly House (July 12). Fifth album from them.

Looking ahead to August: New albums from Katy Perry, Arcade Fire, and the Saturdays.